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Suggestions Needed for Road Trip FL

Any suggestions for non-chain independent places I shouldn't miss. Open to any type of food and price range. Local specialties a plus.

Here's a list of the cities we'll be driving near/through:
Jacksonville, FL
Gainesville, FL
Ocala, FL
Tampa, FL
St. Petersburg, FL
Bradenton, FL
Sarasota, FL
Fort Myers, FL

Thanks in advance, everyone.

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  1. Tampa is always tough for indie options and most are in South Tampa. Here are few worth the trouble:

    Mexican - Algusto's (Kennedy Blvd.,, just west of downtown)
    Contemporary -
    Mise en Place (also Kennedy west of downtown - one of the old timers on the indie scene locally. Less fussy for lunch and still just as quirkly on the menu choices
    SideBerns - (South Howard Avenue) - kid sister to the venerable steak house that does it's own thing in a very hip way.
    Pizza - Gourmet Pizza Co. (610 S. Armenia - corner of Swann & Armenia) Nice variety of unusual pies. A bit under-appreciated, but always good.
    Steak - Bern's Steakhouse - Yes, I know a lot of the local houndies will let out a hugh sigh, but it's one of those places you have to do at least once. Make sure you get a tour of the kitchen and wine cellar (claims to have the biggest wine list in the world) and reserve space in the dessert room.
    Middle Eastern - Byblos Cafe ( S. Macdill Ave) - excellent food and nice atmosphere.
    BBQ - Two schools of thought here - there is the old timer, Jimbo's on W. Kennedy and Kojak's House of Ribs on W. Gandy. Only complaint I have with Kojak's is no fries - which means nothing to sop up all the bbq sauce.
    Latin - Again I can hear a lot of uproar from the peanut gallery, but if you're going to Tampa only once, then you need to go to the original Columbia Restaurant. in Ybor City. Go when they have the Flamenco show. The food can be hit or miss, but there's a heck of a lot of history there and yes there are multiple locations, but it is a Tampa tradition.

    1. Cafe Ponte or Ponte's Tuscan Grill in St. Pete area http://www.cafeponte.com/
      Cafe Alma in downtown St. Pete
      http://www.cafealma.com/
      Salt Rock Grill on the beach http://www.saltrockgrill.com/
      Red Mesa in St. Petersburg http://www.redmesarestaurant.com/imag...
      Mise en Place in Tampa
      Margaritas 4031 W Hillsborough Ave
      Tampa, FL 33614 or Arco Iris http://cuban-food-usa.com/tampa_arco.... for cuban food in Tampa
      In Bradenton/Sarasota area Euphemia Haye http://www.euphemiahaye.com/home.aspx - I've never have eaten there, but my husband's boss swears by it.

      3 Replies
      1. re: dmfnole

        dmf, never tried Arco Iris, but have always been curious about the Cuban/Chinese combo. Is there really that much Chinese influence on the menu? I've always had a soft spot for Pipo's roast pork and kind of remained loyal to it - also, for me the place has to have moros y cristianos. That and the yucca are the perfect combo for the roast pork - with lots of Texas Pete hot sauce.

        1. re: srcusa

          There is some - like fried rice... which might strick you as odd but there was a big population of Chinese that came to Cuba to work on sugar plantations after slavery ended.

          1. re: dmfnole

            Not really, What strikes me as odd is the places in the Los Angeles area that serve fried rice, burgers and pastrami.

      2. In Jax
        By AIA/Mayport Safe Harbor for Spicy Peel and Eat Shrimp with fresh rolls.
        In the boondocks Joe's Outback Crab Shack (not the chain) on State Rd 13 south of bridge to Green Cove Springs (could stop there on the way to Gville bc there are back roads that will lead you to 301 to get to Gville)
        In Gville
        I have said it before and I will say it again - Burrito Bros

        1. In the St. Pete Beach area, try Walt's at Johns Pass. It's one of those seafood shack kinds of places that you'll bless the day you found it! Walt doesn't even open on a day that he can't get the fresh fish and seafood he demands. They have a great wine and beer selection. The gazpacho was delicious and everything we ate was yummy!

          1. While making your way thru Ocala, the only restaurants you'll find on the more traveled area of town (Hwy 200 along I-75) are mostly chains. If you go to the NE section of town, which is only about 10-15 minutes away, go to Grille 754. Its located at 754 NE 25th Avenue. The food is excellent and not your typlical boring food you usually find in our small town. On average, with a glass of wine and a nice dinner, it runs about $35 per person. The service is excellent. The food is interesting and delicious, using some local products from surrounding areas. Its not really fancy, but its a nice, quiet place away from the busy State Road 200 corridor and its on a nice side of town. Its well worth the extra few minutes it takes to get there.

            1. Just thought of another little place in Ocala, this one right off I-75 at exit #70. It's called Huckleberry Fin's. (across from Ramada Inn). Its kind of carribean/islandie. Excellent grouper sandwich. Prices are very reasonable. Great food! And convenient when you want to jump right back on the Interstate.

              1. Sarasota...Italian...Bologna Cafe, Ferraris, Valentinos on Clark rd
                Breakfast...Millies on Clark...any Peaches restaurant
                Fish...Casey Key Fish House....or further south near 41 and River road
                Myaka River Oyster Bar

                Manhattan Bar and Grill friendly sports bar with great hamburgers
                Mexican....El Toro Bravo on Clark,,,,,excellent
                Greek....El Greco
                All these are reasonably priced...for a splurge try Morels or Rosebuds in osprey